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Monday, June 26, 2017

It Is Well

Okay...so my soul and yours need this reminder today. Whatever adversities and heartbreaks we may be facing, whatever fears may be pressing in hard, whatever struggles may be causing you to lose hope in the sovereign plan of God...remember this: those fully praise Him who do so when they have every reason not to. Choosing to thank when life indicates otherwise is what defines a surrendered heart. The author of this hymn had nearly everything taken from him...but he chose to bless God - even in the midst of his greatest sorrow. He knew that his tragedies weren't the end of the story and that God's love would ultimately triumph and His will would have the final word. Keep open hands. Stay open to Grace...because with God, it can always be well with your soul! 




Saturday, June 24, 2017

Holding Nothing Back

"...To renounce self, to live upon Jesus, to walk with God, to overcome the world, to live against hope, to trust the Lord when we cannot trace Him, and to know that our duty and privilege consist in these things, may be readily acknowledged or quickly learned; but, upon repeated trial, we find, that saying and doing are two things. We think at setting out that we sit down and count the cost; but, alas! our views are so superficial at first, that we have occasion to correct our estimate daily. For every day shows us some new thing in the heart, or some new turn in the management of the war against us which we were not aware of; and upon these accounts, discouragement may arise so high as to bring us (I speak for myself) to the very point of throwing down our arms, and making either a tame surrender or a shameful flight. Thus, it would be with us at last, if the Lord of Hosts were not on our side. But though our enemies thrust sore at us that we might fall, He has been our stay."
                      - John Newton 



Friday, June 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Jesus is the only one who lays down his life for you first, before He asks for yours. He pursues, He dies, He gives up everything and then calls us to Himself...His love is so great that it compels us to lay down our lives in return." 
                       - Jeff Bethke in It's Not What You Think 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

"We are by nature at variance with Him. We are too proud to be indebted to His grace, too wise in our own conceits to desire His instruction, too obstinately attached to the love and practice of sin, to be capable of relishing the beauty and spirituality of His commandments. And our love of the world, and the things of it, is too strong and grasping to permit us to be satisfied with the lot and with the dispensations He appoints for us. We wish, if possible, and as far as possible we attempt, to be our own carvers. We are unthankful when He bestows, impatient if He withholds, and if He sees fit to resume the gifts of which we are unworthy, we repine and rebel against His will. This enmity must be subdued, before we can be pleased with His government; in other words, we must be made new creatures. To produce this change, this new creation, the gospel is the only expedient; and when revealed and applied to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, the miracle is wrought. The sinner who is first convinced of his guilt and misery, and then reconciled to God by faith in the great atonement, willingly yields to His administration. He owns and feels the propriety of his proceedings, is ready to acknowledge, in his sharpest afflictions, that the Lord is gracious, and has not dealt with him according to the desert of his iniquities. He considers himself no longer his own, but bought with a price, and brought under the strongest obligations, 'to live no longer to himself, but to him who loved him, and gave himself for him.' And what was before his dread and dislike, becomes now the joy of his heart, the thought that the Lord reigneth, and that all his concerns are in the hands of Him who doeth all things well."
                    - John Newton

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

"In our sufferings, we need to be more concerned about our duty than our deliverance. We should seriously consider what it is that God desires in our present dispensation. There is no condition or trial in the world but we have opportunity to exercise some special grace or duty. To desire deliverance alone is self-love and quite natural to man. In affliction man seeks to be delivered and released from his burden. Men make more haste to get their afflictions removed than to be sanctified in them. Men should sit down, consider their ways, and make new resolutions for better things...God intends good to the soul by the present chastisement, and He directs the soul to discern His aim."
                      - Thomas Case in A Treatise On Afflictions

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

We Are Not Forgotten

"No opposition can prevail against us, if God be for us. It is impossible to deny, or even to doubt, this truth, upon the principles of reason; for who, or what, can injure those who are under the protection of Omnipotence? And yet it is not always easy to maintain the persuasion of it in the mind, and to abide in the exercise of faith, when, to the eye of all sense, all things seem against us. But, though we believe not, He continueth faithful, and will not forsake those whom He once enables to put their trust in Him." 
                      - John Newton




Monday, June 19, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Dear friend, make much of your trials: they are treasures and blessings in disguise, and they quicken to prayer. Pray in the trial, pray over the trial, and pray after the trial, that you may not lose the good it is designed and calculated to import. It is through much tribulation that we are to enter the kingdom; and it is our wisdom and our blessing diligently to watch His providence in all that befalls us in the smaller events of life as in the greater, and when we are tried, to go and ask the Lord to reveal to us the why and the wherefore. If He does not answer us at once, He will in due time make it plain to us, and it shall bring forth good in us and glory to Him."
                   - Mary Winslow in Seasons of the Heart

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Because You Ask Amiss

 This week, I have been reminded of a simple, yet profound truth: that often my greatest disappointments are, in reality, my greatest soul-blessings that I could not otherwise live without. 
 Through my own struggles recently, and those of some closest to me, I've had to speak this over my heart and recall to memory that God is not after my comfort but rather, my growth. While I know this to be true, I so quickly forget it and am prone to question God when He changes directions on me unexpectedly. My human response is to say, "Hey God: didn't you get the memo?!" when what I should be saying is, "Forgive me, Lord, for ever thinking that I knew better." 
 And, when in the midst of great pressure and testing, I frequently ask God to remove the trial, forgetting that such a request is, most often, a lack of faith and desire for ease rather than sanctification. I pray for God to fix the situation when I should be asking Him to simply show me the blessing. 
 His goodness never fails. His love never runs out. I know this. But too often I neglect to preach this truth to myself in the midst of my challenges, and I choose the sinful response of ingratitude instead. Rather than choosing joy - rather than making the conscious choice to be thankful - I just turn right around and tell God to take away the pain. Take away the hurt. Take away the inconvenience of it all. I just want to be comfortable. 
 Thankfully, God doesn't answer these prayers that stem from my feelings. He patiently allows me to rant and puts up with my ungratefulness, but then gives me the truth I need desperately more: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3). Ah...yes...pleasure is, once again, what my foolish heart is after. And thus, I ask amiss. 
 Disappointment bound to happen to us all. Dreams die. Hopes are dashed. Plans change. It's the nature of life. But our response to all of those things is what determines our growth or lack thereof. God's primary goal is that we become more Christ-like in our attitude, and suffering is His primary means to achieving that purpose. He knows that, were He to leave us comfortable, we would never be forced to grow or change. It is in being made uncomfortable - in facing uncertainties - that we learn greater trust in Him and His marvelous plan. 
 Whatever it is that you may be going through right now...whatever may be tempting you to question God's goodness and His love toward you...whatever situation you may want out of...remember this: God placed you in it for a reason. Your place isn't to ask Him for removal of the difficulty but rather to obey and say "yes" to Him. Such surrender will often be on a moment-to-moment basis but, in the end, will result in great faith which could never have happened otherwise. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Because He Enables Us To Soar...

"...The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
                            - Isaiah 40: 28-31



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

"...God teaches the necessity of a life of faith through our disappointments. O the bitter disappointment without faith to provide support! He only lives an unchangeable life who by faith can trust in an unchangeable God. We have lived too long trusting in a life of feelings and reason. And to patch up a life between faith and feelings is not a life of faith at all. If we do not live all by faith, we do not live at all by faith."
                          - Thomas Case in Treatise On Afflictions

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

"If the Lord of hosts, the Lord of lords, be for us, what weapon or counsel can prosper against us? However dark and threatening appearances may be, we need not tremble...when He will work, none can hinder. Nor need you fear for yourself, if you have committed yourself and your all to Him. 'The very hairs of your head are numbered.' There is a hedge of protection around you, which none can break through without His permission; nor will He permit you to be touched, except when He designs to make temporary and seeming evil conducive to your real and permanent advantage."
                    - John Newton 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It should affect us with an admiring and thankful sense of His condescension...His eye is always upon His people, His ear open to their prayers. Not a sigh or falling tear escapes His notice. He pities them, as a father pities his children; He proportions their trials to their strength, or their strength to their trials, and so adjusts His dispensations to their state, that they never suffer unnecessarily, nor in vain."
                     - John Newton

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scripture of the Day

Because my heart needed this reminder today...
You are too weak for this life, but He makes you strong. You are too fearful to take on your greatest trials, but He gives you the faith you need. And nothing...NOTHING in this life can ever separate you from His love.



Saturday, June 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

"...They who dwell under His shadow are safe; for all things are in His power, and He always careth for them, and keepeth them, as the pupil of His eye; and therefore, though they are exercised with trials, and suffer many things for their good, His eye being always upon them, and His ear open to their prayer, they are supported, supplied, relieved, delivered, and, at last, made more than conquerors."
                         - John Newton

Friday, June 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Our mercies do not flow from God all at once, but some today, and others tomorrow. All together they are too heavy for us to wield and manage. Our mercies come in great numbers, but God distributes them by parcels that we are able to acknowledge them and be thankful for them. he loads us daily that we may not forget Him but have new reasons for praise. Each day we are in need of new strength, new grace, and new supplies. Every day affords business, trouble, care, and burdens enough. We do not need to anticipate and occupy ourselves with the next day...God would not have us to be overly burdened with worry about tomorrow; He would have us look no further than today...Take one day at a time, and go to God that He will most plentifully provide for you."
                    - Thomas Manton in Voices From The Past

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Never Stop Chasing

 Looking back on my own graduation and seeing all the times I tried to do life my own way, I realize now that the only way to live my one life well is to do it His way. Chasing my own dreams only left me empty and unfulfilled, and the only way I began to experience my true purpose was when I surrendered to Him and His will. Chasing the dreams God has for me (and you) is so much more worth it than trying to get what you want and failing at it desperately. Whatever His plans may be, I trust Him that He knows what is best. 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

To The High School Grad That Was Me...

Dear You,
 Ten years ago on this day you walked across the stage to receive your high school diploma, knowing that you were stepping from one chapter of your life into a new one, yet having no idea how drastically your young life would be altered...or how radical Grace would surprise your soul.
 As you sat there and listened to your class speaker, you wondered where the path would go from here. He spoke of being an investment in God's kingdom, of being His open letter to the world...but deep inside, you battled anger. You craved answers to what authentic belief looked like. You wondered what such a life of purpose actually looked like.
 You desperately wanted to belong, to feel loved deeply beyond your wildest dreams, to be captivated by a grace that would not let you go. But yet, you felt alone. So many people sitting there behind you, so much happiness surrounding you. But at your deepest, your questions drove you to uncertainty and doubt. Your God, whom you said you believed, was a distant deity that had nothing to do with your personal, everyday living.
 In your graduation speech, you spoke of the purpose of education being to enable one to know God. Oddly enough, you had yet to experience the school of adversity where God would prove your unfaithfulness and His boundless love in ways that would one day blow your mind.




 You asked for Him to guide you...but little did you know that His direction would lead to the places that would bring you to the end of yourself and reveal your inability to do life on your own. Amidst all of the well-wishes of others for a bright future, you would be asked to endure the dashing of such dreams in order for you to gain a heart for what He wanted for you.
 God would ask so many hard things in the years that would follow. He would ask you to give up things that you held dear, to let go of people who, at the time, you thought you'd never lose. Tight-clenched fists would often be your go-to reaction when what God was really after was an open heart and open hands. Slowly, He would prove to you that you had nothing of yourself to offer the world, except what only He could give and do through you. In His love, God would walk you through hospitals, doctors offices, death, sadness, grief, loss, and numerous dark nights of the soul in order to show you that He is good and you are always loved, even when you are tempted to least believe that. That He's still sovereign and merciful, even if the storms of life threaten to throw you right overboard.
 Over time, you would come to see that His greatest demonstration of love to you isn't to give you what you want, but instead to cross your desires so that you'd come to want what He wants. That this life isn't about your comfort but rather your sanctification and continued holiness, and the person whose life makes a difference isn't the one whose been immune to suffering but actually the one whose walked through the greatest pain and still lives life big for the Savior.
 In the years since you celebrated your academic accomplishments, you would glimpse the reality of the brevity of life...coupled with the simple fact that you knew little. That this life isn't guaranteed and that tomorrow isn't promised. That the only sure thing is to place faith in the hands of the Savior and trust Him for all the uncertainties. That being open to Grace is what opens one to life and therefore to God. And this truth produces hope in the worst of times.
You could've never foreseen that you would find yourself meeting people and experiencing things you would never have even dreamt of at the time. That God would bring other kindred souls into your life who would prove His unconditional love to you on a daily basis. That your soul which had such difficulty trusting would one day be able to embrace other's hearts and be known at deeper levels than you thought you could ever let yourself do.
You never would've seen that your story would be the key to openness and that God would use it to lead others to the Light you once ran from yourself.
 I so much wish I could sit you down old self and tell you just how ridiculously good a life following God really is. I wish I could tell you that letting go, while painful and hard, is honestly the only way to truly find purpose in the twist and turns of life.
 Ten years later...here you are: you're sharing your inner struggles with the world, you're living life big as you watch God use you to point others to the Savior. You've made some amazing friends who invest of their flawed but loving hearts to speak life to your soul every day. You're working in places with people that you would've never guessed but it feels oh, so right now that you're here...because He's led the way. And it's His story anyway.
  A decade ago, you quoted John Newton's autobiography in your speech, meaning every word but not completely grasping just how true they would become to you in the years to come. But, as with any truth worth holding onto, those words are still just as pertinent to you today...and yes...they do mean so much more now than ever before!
 Perhaps the best way to remember this incredible ten-year journey is to bring these words to mind again and remind yourself that God never left your side, even in the worst times, and that He continued to purpose your heart and to teach you. That He broke you in order to fix you because He loved you.
 True now as ever...

"I...have found that there is no effectual teacher but God...I am still a learner, and the Lord still condescends to teach me. I have attained but very little, but I trust in Him to carry on His work in my soul, and by His grace and providence to increase my knowledge of Him, and of myself...My desire to serve the Lord is not weakened...it is sufficient that He knows how to dispose of me, and that He both can and will do what is best. To Him I command myself. I trust that His will and my true interest are inseparable. To His name be glory."

And so, dear You, be thankful for the journey. Because these ten years have been hard but still amazingly good. You've come so far, sweet girl. Keep going. Keep believing. Keep looking up. Because you're chosen and loved beyond anything you'll ever know. And that's enough.

Sincerely, 
Me 



      

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

"The two evils charged upon Israel of old, a proneness to forsake the fountain of living waters, and to trust [in broken] cisterns (Jer. 2:13)...run through the whole of my experience abroad and at home. A few drops of grace in my fellow worms endear them to me exceedingly. If I expect to see any Christian friends, I count the hours till we meet: I promise myself great benefit; but if the Lord withdraws His influence, the best of them prove to me but clouds without water...I suffer much in learning to depend upon the Lord alone; I have been at this lesson many a long year but am so poor and dull a scholar, that I have not made any tolerable progress in it."
                        - John Newton

Monday, June 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

"All the temporal blessings and accommodations He provides to sweeten life, and make our passage through this wilderness more agreeable, will fail and disappoint us, and produce us more thorns than roses, unless we can keep sight of His hand in bestowing them, and hold and use the gifts in some due subserviency to what we owe to the Giver. But, alas! we are poor creatures, prone to wander, prone to admire our gourds, cleave to our cisterns, and think of building tabernacles and taking our rest in this polluted world. Hence the Lord often sees it necessary, in mercy to His children, to embitter their sweets, to break their cisterns, send a worm to their gourds, and draw a dark cloud over their pleasing prospects...May He enable you to settle it in your hearts that creature-comforts are precarious, insufficient, and ensnaring; that all good comes from His hand, and that nothing can do us good, but so far as He is pleased to make it the instrument of communicating, as a stream, that goodness which is in Him as a fountain."
                        - John Newton

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It is a great support and solace to the saints in all their distresses, that there is a wise Spirit setting all the wheels of providence in motion. He governs the most irregular creatures and their most destructive designs to a blessed and happy outcome. It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence. God will not expose any that take shelter under His wings and who fly to Him for sanctuary. All the issues of providence are beneficial to the saints. How cheerful, supporting, and encouraging is the consideration of these things! What life and hope it inspires in our hearts and prayers when great pressures lie upon us! In heaven, how delightful a sight will it be to behold the whole design of providence that we could not understand in this world! All the dark, intricate, and puzzling providences in which we sometimes stumbled, and which we could not reconcile with the promises, and which we so unjustly condemned and bitterly bewailed as if they have fallen out against our happiness; we shall then be able to understand them. Our present views of providence are imperfect in comparison to heaven. Yet our earthly view, under all its present disadvantages, has so much sweetness in it that I may call it a little heaven. It is certainly a highway of walking with God in this world. A soul may enjoy sweet communion with Him in His providences. How often have observers melted into tears of joy at seeing His wise and unexpected productions? How often, if the Lord had left them to their own counsels, they would have been their own tormenters? We can give our hearty thanks that providence considers our interest more than our importunity, protecting us from perishing by our own desires."
                        - John Flavel in Voices From The Past

Friday, June 2, 2017

Falling Away

 The more I walk with Jesus, the more I'm realizing just how difficult the life of faith really is. It seems easy to believe initially, but when that belief gets tested time after time, doubt can often appear to be a far more reasonable response. Fear can become a go-to reaction when things get hard. The trust you thought you'd forever have in the God of love leaves you, and you find yourself wondering how you got to this place of emptiness and confusion. The human heart is our worst betrayer. It leads us to places we think we want to go, only to discover that we've lost more than we gained in taking such a path. 
 Just last night, I learned that a good friend of mine who was drawn to Christ in the most profound way and spent several years of his life using his testimony to lead others to the Savior has recently chosen to listen to his sinful heart and is making some poor decisions at this moment. My soul is heavy. And yet, the longer I go on, I understand how quickly one can be mis-led when they choose to listen to themselves instead of preach truth to themselves. We're all capable of disowning our calling as followers of Jesus, and it is only His grace (and our cooperation with that grace) that keeps us from turning our backs on the God who saved us. 
 I don't know what your spiritual battles are today or what hardships you may be facing in your life right now, but I want to urge and encourage you to press into Him. Fight hard for faith. Stand strong in the grace given to you by God, and know that you're not alone in this struggle called life. His goodness is often best seen in the face of impossibilities, so don't despair and choose the easy way. The trying of your faith, the firing of your belief, will work character in your life and will be used for God's purposes in due time. 
Today, make a simple yet crucial choice that, in all you do, you'll dare to believe. 


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

Love this beautiful thought... 

"Q: What is your only comfort, in life and in death? 

 A: That I belong - body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil, that He protects me so well that without the will of my Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit His purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him."
                   - Heidelberg Chatechism 1563

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Prayer For The Day

"Lord, teach me more and more of Thyself and of my own poverty, misery, and weakness. And oh, unfold to my longing eyes and heart what there is in Thyself to supply all my need, and in Thy loving, willing heart to do all for me, and all in me, to fit me for Thy service here and for Thy presence hereafter! Sanctify abundantly all Thy varying dispensations to the welfare and prosperity of my soul, and increase in me every gift and grace of Thy Spirit, that I may show forth Thy praise and walk humbly and closely with Thee. Thou knowest what a poor, worthless worm I am and how utterly unworthy of the least mercy from Thy merciful hands; but Thou lovest to bestow Thy favors upon the poor and needy, such as me, Thou, most precious Lord. Thou hast been a good and gracious, sin-pardoning God to my soul, and a very present help in every time of trouble. Helpless as an infant I hang upon Thee, to do all for me and all in me." 
                         - Mary Winslow in Seasons Of The Heart

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It All Begins And Ends With Him

 Beautiful words to comfort my soul this day. His boundless love isn't based on my efforts. His mercy isn't determined by my ability or inability to sustain my relationship with Him. It's simply about a holy God delighting to choose me and give me the faith to believe. It's not about us, my friend. It's about Him. Simply put: living with Jesus always begins and ends with Him. 



Monday, May 29, 2017

Behind the Scenes

 Last year, I had the honor of getting to visit this hallowed ground and to see the real-life definition of sacrifice first hand. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider is something many have seen either on the news or in person but have never fully understood. This short video takes you behind the scenes into one of our most sacred traditions and why it matters... 



Memorial Day Reflections

This day holds special meaning for me. As I've described in previous Memorial Day posts (you're welcome to check those out in my blog archives), Memorial Day means a lot to me. Unlike many Americans who seem to be too busy, too caught up in patriotic fervor, or  too occupied with the "first weekend of summer" hype to notice what this day is really about, I spent ten years around the military community and learned what this day truly means. I personally knew a Marine who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and I've met many other families whose loved ones did the same. This day isn't to celebrate the living of those who serve - that's for Armed Forces Day. It isn't to celebrate those who have served previously - that's what Veterans Day is about. It isn't to simply celebrate America - that's for July 4th. This day is to honor those who died. Those who were willing to give their own lives and their own futures in order to protect the rest of us. And so, on this Memorial Day, I say thank-you to them once again. I will never take their sacrifices for granted. I hope you won't either. 
 The following poem is one that I wrote several years ago which details my reflections of this day and past experiences I've had while walking in the national military cemeteries on Memorial Day:


The Last Goodbye

A solider kneels beside the grave
Of someone he held dear;
A widow, quietly standing by,
Wipes her face of tears.
A veteran comes to lay a wreath
Or to say a final word.
The innocent chirping of the birds,
The only sound that's heard.
A leader comes to pay respects,
And friends remember well
The youthful man they honor here
With every story they tell.
As they say their last farewell,
I'm often asking why
It's more than just a parting - 
It's seems like a last goodbye:
A scene too quickly forgotten,
A sacrifice brushed aside;
No place for the fallen to live on,
No heart to within abide.
Is this the only time we pause
To think on what they gave?
The only day we set aside 
To honor these the brave?
What will the solider feel this day?
The widow? Or veteran too?
Will this day find us at his grave
To give the warrior his due?
Will we join the leader,
Or the friends who gather there,
To say a silent thank-you
And to show them that we care?
Let's not make this the last goodbye
But take this journey here,
To lay a rose and say a word,
To keep his memory near.
Don't let the soldier grieve alone,
The widow, the veteran, or friends - 
This warrior cared enough to die;
Let's love them to the end.
Don't wait another year to say
You think on what he they gave,
But every time you see the flag,
In your heart, make a pilgrimage to his grave.






Saturday, May 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Acclaim from the world asks a lot in return. It can jade you and strip you of your desire for anything other than yourself. It can destroy you, as it almost did for me, and its not worth the price unless God sees fit to give it to you in order to show you that he's better. By God's grace, he brought me through those challenges and has used them to show me how good and gracious he truly is. I'm not perfect, and I still fail on a daily basis. I still see my need for a savior every day because of that. But I have faith that the Lord is making me more like himself."
                                - David Boudia in Greater Than Gold

Friday, May 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

"For a long time when I heard the word idol, I thought of some carved statue with people bowing down before it. Or maybe I thought of someone you look up to, like a pop star. But I've learned that an idol is anything we worship that isn't God, anything that captures the affections, devotions, and desires that only God deserves. If something drives us, gives us meaning, and shapes and forms how we live, and that thing isn't God, then it's an idol. It took me a long time to figure this out, but the truth is our hearts were created to worship something. It will either be God or something else."
                                       - David Boudia in Greater Than Gold

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Who Do You Admire?

 Like most people, I grew up having role models. These were men and women that I grew to respect and admire for a courageous stand they took, for the difference they made, for a successful achievement they made. When I was little, most of these examples were people from history. I loved reading biographies and immersing myself in the stories of brave individuals who changed the world. 
 Early on, my role models included Dolly Madison, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and the late Queen Elisabeth (The Queen Mother) of England. All of these women played an important role in their nation's history by using their God-given gifts to bring hope to others. Three of these women spent a portion of their young years tending to the wounds of others. All four of these women lived through a war and saw its affects on their communities. I read all that I could about them...because something told me inside I'd one day have to put such things into action later on in life. I wanted to be like them. Strangely enough, my own life would one day mirror theirs in that I would live through a war in much the same way and would find myself tending to the emotional wounds of others, all the while recalling the example of my female predecessors who had done the same. 
 As I grew older, though, I began to look beyond historical figures for inspiration. Sports figures and contemporary people became equally interesting to me. I followed several of them closely. I read articles, watched interviews, and read books. I even made myself a scrapbook of quotes from these people on success, leadership, and the like. 
 But then came the letdowns...
As happens so often, I tasted the disappointment of observing the public downfall of several of these people. One was found to have cheated in his sport; another had private addiction problems. I was crushed. They seemed to have it all. If only they hadn't made such foolish choices, I thought! 
 So my solution was to look to Christian examples. I found other figures who inspired me that acknowledged and followed Jesus. Now, I thought, I would find the guiding role models I was seeking. Because these people know God, they can't disappoint me...
 But eventually, they too, had their downfalls. One at a time, word broke of marital affairs, hypocritical living, etc. I was disillusioned. My own walk with God was unstable at the time, and I was looking for others who would show me what a purposeful life looked like. Now that these professing Christians had let me down, I didn't know who to trust anymore. Is anybody worth my admiration anymore?? 
 In time, I would come to realize that, in a sinful and fallen world, it's actually unrealistic to expect people to behave rightly. Human nature, at its core, is set against everything good. More than that, it is set against God. And unless He grants grace to live differently, human beings will continue to return to the fallen aspects of their inner being. If you live life thinking that everyone is basically good, honest, and kind, then you will probably find yourself disappointed along the way...because eventually, people's true colors show, and you'll discover things about them that let you down. Because everyone makes mistakes. And nobody is perfect. And nobody can love anybody or set the proper example for anybody  rightly unless God intervenes. 
 I've come to see that it's really wrong of us to set each other on a pedestal and expect one another to be the perfect spouse, the perfect parent, the perfect child, the perfect pastor, the perfect role model, the perfect...well...anything. Because, apart from God, there isn't any such thing. We're merely human beings trying to fight our old selves and change into someone better thanks to  God's grace. There will be moments when we let each other down. There will be times when we can't see eye to eye. There will be times when we hurt each other...deeply. A wrong word said, an improper action done, a selfish thought conceived...we're all subject to such things. Even though we try to put our best foot forward for one another, our pride masks the fact that we have weaknesses and faults running through our veins constantly. Nobody...no matter how hard they try...can or ever will live "the perfect life." If we were more honest with each other, perhaps we'd spare one another such letdowns. Maybe we'd go into a dating relationship with the attitude that there's nothing we can do to impress the other person. Maybe we'd enter marriage with the perspective that there will be days that we don't love the other person. Maybe we'd parent with the knowledge that our children will sometimes bring us great disappointment and grief by their actions. Maybe we'd attend church realizing that sometimes the pastor will get it wrong. But, with the understanding of all these things, perhaps we'd pray deeper for others. Perhaps we'd be humbler about our own achievements, realizing that if we amount to anything in this life, it is the gift of God. Perhaps we'd forgive a littler quicker, knowing that we have no right to judge others for their sin...because we've got our own heart issues too. Perhaps we'd be a little more cautious as to who we emulate, knowing that the only One truly worth emulating is our Creator. 
 In his book, "Shaken," former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow writes, 

"We have this tendency to idolize people, to think they're perfect or have a perfect life or a perfect marriage or a perfect body or a perfect family or a perfect job. Many of us see other people for what they choose to put out on Instagram or Facebook. The perfect selfie (that took fifteen shots and a few minutes of Photoshopping). The perfect picture with their spouse (that doesn't include a snapshot of the huge blowup they had the night before). The perfect record of the athlete on the field (that doesn't reflect his hardship in caring for a child with a life-threatening illness). 
 When we get caught up in these fake worlds, we can become disillusioned. We forget that each one of us is human. Flawed. We all have bad thoughts. We all struggle with things. We all need grace. And we all need Jesus. Every. Single. One. Of us.
 So instead of viewing those you admire as perfect and incapable of messing up and calling them out in judgement when they do, place your eyes on Jesus instead. He is perfect. He is the one constant who is forever doing right, forever loving, forever faithful, forever unchanging. Humans are flawed and limited, but God is not. We are human, He is not. Look up to God, not others."

 You see, when He becomes the focus of our admiration and devotion, when He becomes most paramount, when He takes the place of all others, then we free those around us to be themselves without unrealistic expectation. We remove the burden of having to live up to all we want them to be, and instead just accept them for who they are...flaws and all. We then come together in a community of common brokenness before God and acknowledge that none of us "have it altogether," as we often wrongly assume. 
 The world is starving for real, authentic people. People who know themselves to be weak and inadequate, who feel the real struggle against fear...who are simply striving to live daring lives of faith in a challenging world. The best way we can be the soul-healers of our day is to talk about our imperfection and His perfection. About our own shortcomings and His never-ending mercy. About the times we've come short, and He's pulled us through. The answer is always Him. Every single time. 
 Having mentors and examples to look up to is great. We all need that. But do so with caution, knowing that people can never supply what He can. People can never be what we often want them to be. Let our expectations of others be realistic, and let us free each other up to be ourselves as we look to the only One who is truly worthy of our devotion and praise. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When we come to God for fresh benefits of grace, it is always good to remember His former benefits. Our current needs should stir us up to pay the interest of thanksgiving on past blessings. We are unworthy of new mercies when we do not acknowledge the mercies we have already received."
                           - Stephen Charnock in Voices From The Past

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What I Learned From A Simple Redwood Tree

 My shoulders kept bending ever backward as I stood and looked at the giant trees standing all around me. Trees so tall you couldn't see their tops. The breeze rustled gently through their mighty branches and whispered a strange peace. It was my first time of visiting the majestic Muir Woods in California. I'd never laid eyes on a natural site such as this ever before. A creek ran trickling down through the middle of the paths on either side of its banks. Birds sang out a cheerful chorus. Two baby foxes played happily along the side of the path, oblivious to the dozens of people passing by their den. The whole scene spoke of tranquility and soul-refreshing wonder...of delight in a Creator whose ways take the human breath away. 
 I happened on a talk that one of the park rangers was giving to the eager tourists. He educated them on the uniqueness of the redwood trees and how the Muir Woods were discovered. However, one thing he said got my mind to thinking...and I honestly didn't hear much of the talk after this. Redwood trees are unique in that fire doesn't damage them - they're essentially un-burnable. Indestructible. Unlike most kinds of trees which burn up and die when a forest fire strikes them, redwoods actually need to be burned from time to time in order to grow and become strong. They thrive on the heat and the flames. The char marks on some of the trees, the ranger said, were from nearly a hundred years ago, but the tree withstood the burn and bears the scars of its survival. 


 The spiritual analogy was too strong of one for me to pass up: the fires of life come upon all of us. We each find ourselves facing tests and circumstances that threaten to burn us right through, to destroy the last bit of life in us and leave us for dead. But, unlike the trees which have no choice as to their kind and how they will handle the fire, we do have a choice as to which type we will be. When such adversities and tests happen to us, will we allow ourselves to be like those that burn straight through and cannot withstand the heat? Or will be like the redwood which thrives on the flames, which stands strong in the times of its testing? Which, when its droughts come, will put out more roots to find its needed moisture to replenish itself? 
 God allows things to occur in our lives so that we will discover what kind of tree we are. So that we will find out if our roots are deep and secure or weak and shallow. So that we will come to understand how to form thick bark that is un-burnable, indestructible. So that we may one day come to grow into a scarred thing of beauty which reflects strength. 
Whatever tests you may be going through right now in your life, choose to welcome the fiery trying of your faith. Through such trials, God enables us to grow and, therefore, become monuments to His grace. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When I enumerate our many mercies, it is with deep humility that I look back on my past life and discover so little gratitude and so much unworthiness. How much has sovereign grace done for me! Though I have solemnly professed to find consolation in religion, do I derive my hopes of happiness only from God? Yet how often have I roved in the world in quest of pleasure and dishonored the best of masters by an unholy life. 
How ungrateful have I been for the common mercies of life and for the still more precious blessings of the Holy Spirit. May ever temporal blessing that your heart can wish be yours. But whatever is the trial through which you may be called to pass, may that heaven-born religion attend you that you can sweeten the bitter cup of life, afford you joy in this vale of tears, support you in nature's last extremity, and conduct you to the heavenly Canaan, where undisturbed happiness will ever reign. Life is but a vapor. Whether we spend it in tranquility and ease or in pain and suffering, time will soon land us on the shores of eternity to our destined home."
                      - Harriet Newell in Seasons Of The Heart

Friday, May 19, 2017

Vision in the Valley

The Valley of Vision

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, 
Where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
Hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
That to be low is to be high, 
That the broken heart is the healed heart, 
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
That to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to where the crown,
That to give is to receive,
That the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells, the brighter Thy stars shine;
Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.
Amen.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

"I hope your soul prospers. I do not ask you if you are always filled with sensible comfort: but do you find your spirit more bowed down to the feet and will of Jesus, so as to be willing to serve Him for the sake of serving Him, to follow Him, as we say, through thick and thin; to be willing to be anything or nothing, so that He may be glorified? 
I could give you plenty of good advice upon this head; but I am ashamed to do it, because I so poorly follow it myself. I want to live with him by the day, to do all for Him, to make Him my hiding-place and my resting-place. I want to deliver up that rebel self to Him in chains; but the rogue, like Proteus, puts on so many forms, that he slips through my fingers: but I think I know what I would do if I could fairly catch him." 
                     - John Newton

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

"The best saint when he looks at himself becomes unhappy; he sees things that should not be there, and if you and I spend our whole time looking at ourselves we shall remain in misery, and we shall lose the joy. Self-examination is alright, but introspection is bad. Let us draw the distinction between these two things. We can examine ourselves in light of Scripture, and if we do that we shall be driven to Christ. But with introspection a man looks at himself and continues to do so, and refuses to be happy until he gets rid of the imperfections that are still there. Oh, the tragedy that we should spend our lives looking at ourselves instead of looking at Him who can set us free!"
                     - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad."
                  - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, May 12, 2017

Weakness Is Powerful

Beautiful. And no words needed to add to this. Don't be afraid of your failures and weakness. There is too much grace in God for us to run from ourselves. He will do big things through people that know they can be nothing apart from His enabling. 




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

"...It is best to believe that a daily portion of comforts and crosses, each one the most suitable to your case, is adjusted and appointed by the Hand that was once nailed to the cross for us; that where the path of duty and prudence leads, there is the best situation we could possibly be in at that juncture."
                        - John Newton 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

"I wish you much comfort from David's thought, Psalm 142:3: 'When my spirit is overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.' The Lord is not withdrawn to a great distance, but His eye is upon you, and He sees you not with the indifference of a mere spectator; but He observes with attention, He knows, He considers your path: yea, He appoints it, and every circumstance about it is under His direction. Your trouble began at the hour He saw best: it could not come before, and He has marked the degree of it to a hair's breadth, and the duration to the minute. He knows likewise how your spirit is affected; and such supplies of grace and strength, and in such seasons as He sees needful, He will afford. So that when things appear darkest, you shall still be able to say, 'Though chastened, not killed.' Therefore, hope in God, for you shall yet praise Him."
                       - John Newton

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Gospel Makes A Way

 This song has really spoken to me lately as I look at the broken world within and without me. So many evidences of the hopelessness of humanity...so many reminders that we have no chance at a life worthwhile apart from the Giver Himself. Honestly, we can't even approach God in the right spirit if He doesn't grant the faith and grace to do so. We have not chosen to follow God without Him first planting the desire for a better way. He begins and ends it all. Such a mind-blowing concept that is! The God of the Universe knew me and loved me before time began and picked me to be His child! That thought should be all we need to give us meaning in this desperate world. I know sometimes it's hard to believe and that faith often runs out, but God always comes through. Even in the worst moments this thing called life offers us, He comforts us with the truth that we are always loved, and He is forever good. Our sin is never so great that His grace is not greater. Our hearts are never so broken that He cannot and will not mend them. Our failures and regrets are never so big that His love is not bigger still. Truly,

"In a world where our hearts are breaking,
And we're lost in the mess we've made,
Like a blinding light in the dead of night
It's the Gospel that makes a way!"

And for that, we can and should be forever thankful! 


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

"I am profoundly grateful to God that He did not grant me certain things for which I asked, and that He shut certain doors in my face."
                       - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, May 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It is indeed natural to us to wish and to plan, and it is merciful in the Lord to disappoint our plans, and to cross our wishes. For we cannot be safe, much less happy, but in proportion as we are weaned from our own wills, and made simply desirous of being directed by His guidance. This truth (when we are enlightened by His Word) is sufficiently familiar to the judgement; but we seldom learn to reduce it into practice, without being trained awhile in the school of disappointment. The schemes we form look so plausible and convenient, that when they are broken we are ready to say, 'what a pity!' We try again, and with no better success; we are grieved, and perhaps angry, and pan out another, and so on: at length, in a course of time, experience and observation begin to convince us, that we are not more able than we are worthy to choose aright for ourselves. Then the Lord's invitation to cast our cares upon Him, and His promise to take care of us, appear valuable; and when we have done planning, His plan in our favor gradually opens, and He does more and better for us than we could either ask or think. I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine, of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied, that, had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin; or, at least, it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me. We judge of things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences: if we could do so likewise, we should be perfectly of His mind; but as we cannot, it is an unspeakable mercy that He will manage for us, whether we are pleased with His management or not; and it is spoken of as one of His heaviest judgements, when He gives any person or people up to the way of their own hearts, and to walk after their own counsels."
                                - John Newton

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It is when we have come to the end of our own resources, or rather, to see that we never had any at all, that we are willing to accept the fact that we can do nothing and let God do everything for us."
                          - Frances Ridley Havergal in Seasons Of The Heart

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When means and hope fail, when everything looks dark upon us, when we seem shut up on every side, when we are brought to the lowest ebb, still our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. To Him all things are possible; and before the exertion of His power, when He is pleased to arise and work, all hindrances give way and vanish, like a mist before the sun. And he can so manifest Himself to the soul, and cause His goodness to pass before it, that the hour of affliction shall be the golden hour of the greatest consolation...We have therefore cause for continual praise. The Lord has given us to know His name as a resting-place and a hiding-place, a sun and a shield. Circumstances and creatures may change; but He will be an unchangeable friend."
                         - John Newton 


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Our whole error is that we always start with ourselves: 'I want this, that, and the other.' It is the wrong way round. We should start with the kingdom of God...You must start with what God has done, God's plan and purpose..."
                         - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Monday, May 1, 2017

What To Do About Waiting

 I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of waiting. So much of life depends on it and yet there is something in our nature which hates and fights it. 
 This truth has been driven home to me recently in regards to a situation I've been working through. I have this close friend of mine who calls me about every 6-8 weeks to say hello and catch up. He's extremely busy most of the time, so the fact that he makes time to invest in our friendship means the world to me. I always look forward to our calls. And in between our talks, the texts go back and forth and we try to touch base as often as we can. It's hard to describe the friendship but it's one of those that only comes along once in a very great while. He's one of those people that has changed my life in so many ways. I'm honestly spoiled in that he finds the time that he does to show that he cares. 
However, he's a senior in college and is in the last couple crazy weeks of school, the end of the baseball season, preparing for the MLB draft, and wrapping up other activities he's taken on during the school year. I know he's busy, but it's been several weeks since our last communication. And so I've had to wait until he's able to make time to talk again. But, like so many other things I value or want in life, waiting is hard. The selfish part of me wants an answer - I want to hear from him. I don't want to wait. But that's because I'm thinking of me instead of my friend. Thinking of what I want instead of what is best for him. 
 In a spiritual sense, I see that this is often how I look at things with God, too. I want God to do things that are what I want, when I want them done. I insert my will into the equation and demand that I know the best timing and the best way, when what God's really after is my surrender. But I fight that because my human desire takes over and prevents me from desiring the kingdom of God. 
 Trust is the difference. If I trust this earthly friendship, then I wouldn't mind the waiting because I know my friend will get in touch eventually and the reconnecting will be sweet. 
In the same way, if I trust God, then I will be willing to submit to His timing and won't fight the seasons where He offers no response or answer. 
 I must ask God in both cases to give me faith. I want to surrender my fears to Him in full resignation, perfectly okay to be anything, to give up anything, to wait for anything provided that He gets the glory and my selfishness is further captured. I need to get beyond myself in order to experience the best things. 
 Oh Lord, grant me grace to open up my hands and heart. To let go with complete "yes" so that I may be filled with only those blessings which You most desire. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Our fears are due to our failure to stir up - failure to think, failure to take ourselves in hand. You find yourself looking to the future and then you begin things and you say, 'I wonder what is going to happen?' And then, imagination runs away with you. You are gripped by the thing; you do not stop to remind yourself of who you are and what you are, this thing overwhelms you and down you go. Now the first thing you have to do is to take a firm grip of yourself, to pull yourself up, to stir up yourself, to take yourself in hand, and to speak to yourself...
You seem to be thinking about yourself and about life and all you have to do as if you were still an ordinary person. But...you are not an ordinary person! You are a Christian, you are born again, the Spirit of God is in you. But you are facing all these things as if you are still what you once were...and is not that the trouble with us all in this connection? 
Though we are truly Christian, though we believe the truth, though we have been born again, though we are certainly children of God, we lapse into this condition in which we again begin to think as if none of these things had happened to us at all. Like the man of the world, the man who has never been regenerated, we allow the future to come to us and dominate us, and we compare our own weakness and lack of strength with the greatness of the calling and the tremendous task before us. And down we go as if we were but our natural selves." 
                      - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression

Friday, April 28, 2017

Admission

 Every healing begins with an admission. Every turning point starts with a desperation cry.  Every victory is proceeded by a confession of failure - a recognition that it's humanly impossible to overcome the weight of one's own faults and sins. It's the Alcoholics Anonymous first step to getting sober: the ability to admit that one is an alcoholic, not just that one has a drinking problem. Because it's easy to excuse away the deepest weakness of one's flesh when one only faces the problem in part...when one only calls the issue a portion of what it actually is. 
 As many of you are aware, this blog has become a forum of admission for myself and those who read it regularly. (And I hope it becomes more of such in the future!) I speak often of my own failings here because I find that my own experience isn't all that unlike that of my readers...we're all struggling in some way to find progress in our journey to Grace; we're all striving to be a better version of ourselves each day - and falling miserably in the process. But all along, we're discovering an incredibly patient and merciful God whose love continues to forgive and renew us in spite of all the times we come short of who we want to become for Him! He accepts us regardless, yet values us too much to keep us where we are. And so, this blog celebrates failure and the Grace which redeems it (in all of us) on a daily basis. 
 Well...today you're going to get a big admission from me. And perhaps you may make the same yourself: 
 I. Am. A. Fearful. Person. 
I've always had a very confident personality, and I've always been the type who was a can-do individual. I've never shied away from a task I felt was worth tackling and I've always experienced relative success in most things I undertook. As a result, I didn't think of myself as being fearful. I could speak comfortably in front of hundreds of people, write important letters to world leaders, meet new people with ease, etc - all things that many others would find terrifying. 
But then again...I've perhaps disguised my fears more than I realized over the years. In the last decade, I've had many personal experiences that have turned me into a person who is afraid of many things. I'm only recently realizing how many there actually are...
 And I'm also beginning to understand that as much as I ask God for a change of heart, my first response to much of life is set on "Fear." Faith is secondary to it. It takes me much talking to myself to get myself to move beyond the "what if" factor. I question everything. Because I've been hurt enough that I expect even the good things in life to turn sour at some point. Sadly, even as many times as God has demonstrated His willingness to give blessings and good gifts to this child of His, I appreciate it for a short time before switching back to, "Thanks God, but will this also be taken away?" 
 This negative response to even the sweet things of life has placed emotional barriers to my relationships. Even the closest friends in my life have, at some time or another, probably noticed the hesitancy, the resistance, the distance. I've let them in closer than others, yet I still have refused to trust their love to the extent that I should. I have experienced their care and yet still thought on more than one occasion, "Others left, so why wouldn't this person leave at some point too?" My past fears have trickled over into my present fears and my fears of the future. I am a fearful person. 
 More than just the human relationships, I have treated God and His good gifts in my life this way too. Even when He continues to show up and turn all things - the bad and the good - into blessings meant for me as tokens of His love, I still receive them with fear. I am living a question mark instead of an exclamation point. I am a fearful person.
 Now that I've admitted such, I'm also realizing that perhaps now I can find myself advancing a bit in this desire to dare greatly, to do life big, and to face all fears with a mighty faith that only God can give. Victory isn't always achieved by determination. Sometimes one must actually be honest and humble enough to see that they can't achieve what they hope to be without leaving it in God's hands. We all admit that we can't change apart from God, but we often see it as a partnership instead of a sovereign submission. We see as mostly God but with help from us instead of realizing that we have no power of our own to make ourselves transform. We only lead ourselves to our own ruin. God actually needs no assistance from us...only a willing and surrendered heart. And often, He does His best work when we are at our personal end and cannot go any further. Then, He does more because we've become less.
 Claiming defeat in the spiritual life is actually the first step to achieving victory. Reminding ourselves that God fights the battles of our weakness for us and that we need only to stand and be still (Exodus 14:14) is really where we will begin to relax and stop trying so hard to do it on our own. God wants us to give up ...in the sense that we quit trying to do His part and rather accept all of ourselves for His sake. Learn to live with ourselves and be okay with not being okay. I'm not fine, and neither are you. As the great theologian D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, 

"The fact that you have become a Christian does not mean that you cease to have to live with yourself. You will have to live with yourself as long as you are alive, and yourself is your self and not somebody else's self."

We're all broken people living in this fallen world and trying to see through to God, but just  maybe we could find ourselves further along if we simply accept the fact that we will always live with our failures until the day God calls us out of this world. We will struggle with our weaknesses forever till such time as we leave this earth. As much as we wish ourselves to be better people than we are, it's still a fact that we're always be a worse version of ourselves than we'd hope for. Yet we are powerfully loved more than we dare believe. God just may leave us tied to our greatest struggle so that we are forever reminded of His necessary provision and grace in our lives. 
 My biggest struggle is fear. I. Am. A. Fearful. Person. I'm asking God for greater trust yet realizing I'll keep failing in that belief because I'm a sinner. Thank God for grace though, right?! 
I don't know what you're issue is. You may be only recently discovering it, or it may have traveled with you for a very long time. Either way, remember that there is enough grace in God to accept even the worst part of yourself and surrender to the Healer's touch. Don't be afraid to admit the worst about yourself. Because God already knows about it - and He died for all of it on the cross. Your defeat is His victory. Your loss is Heaven's gain. You are not responsible for your own life-change, and it's perfectly alright to be mistrusting of yourself. Because that's where faith can blossom and God's ability can shine through!



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

"How happy is that state of a believer, to have a sure promise that all shall work together for good in the end, and, in the mean time sure refuge where to find present relief, support, and protection! How comfortable is it, when trouble is near, to know that the Lord is near likewise, and to commit ourselves and all our cares simply to Him, believing that His eye is upon us, and His ear open to our prayers. Under the conduct of such a Shepherd, we need not fear, although we are called to pass through fire and water, through the valley of the shadow of death, He will be with us, and will show Himself mighty on our behalf!"
                         - John Newton

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Hide yourself under the shadow of His wings; rely upon His care and power; look upon Him as a physician who has graciously undertaken to heal your soul of the worst of sicknesses, sin. Yield to His prescriptions, and fight against every thought that would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself. When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that He is your leader. When your spirit is overwhelmed within you, He knows your path: He will not leave you to sink. He has appointed seasons of refreshment, and you shall find that He does not forget you. Above all, keep close to the throne of grace. 
I pray that you may be enabled more and more to honor the Lord, by believing His promise: for He is not like a man, that should fail or change, or be prevented by anything unforeseen from doing what He has said...
Here is the mercy - that His ways are above ours as the heavens are higher than the earth. Though we are foolish and unbelieving, He remains faithful; He will not deny Himself. I recommend to you especially that promise of God, which is so comprehensive that it takes in all our concernments, I mean, that all things shall work together for good. How hard it is to believe, that not only those things which are grievous to the flesh, but even those which draw forth our corruptions and discover to us what is in our hearts, and fill us with guilt and shame, should in the issue work for our good! Yet the Lord has said it! All your pains and trials, all that befalls you in your own person, or that affects you upon the account of others, shall in the end prove to your advantage. And your peace does not depend upon any change of circumstances which may appear desirable, but in having your will bowed to the Lord's will, and made willing to submit all to His disposal and management."
                         - John Newton

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grace To Fail

 I was up at 3am the other morning and couldn't sleep. I've battled a health issue for several months that makes it hard for me to sleep through the night sometimes, so I took the opportunity to pray and read a little. 
 Lately, I've been living in the writings of John Newton - his words give me permission to be okay with not being okay and to accept all my failings as opportunities for God's grace to drive deeper in my life. I'm currently working through a book that highlights this truth called Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. My eyes fell the other night on a paragraph with a powerful (and convicting) statement. As she details a struggle she'd be having with sin in her life, she talks about a conversation she had with her counselor, Margaret: 

"I sat in Margaret's home and poured out my heart to her. I went on for quite awhile as she listened compassionately and jotted down some notes. After our first session ended, she looked calmly into my puffy, reddened eyes and gave me a peculiar kind of hope. She said, 'Barbara, God is going to pour His grace into you. He will either give you grace to change and to grow in these two areas of great struggle with sin, or He will give you the grace to stay the same and survive your failure." 

While I embrace the fact that I know God wants us all to be improving in our lives and facing our fears and weaknesses with faith and dependence upon Him, I am also beginning to realize that much of our discontentment in our lives stems from the simple fact that we think we should be further along than we are. We cannot live with ourselves. We cannot be okay with the fact that we are not okay. And we just can't ever seem to entertain the thought that God sometimes doesn't fix us completely so that we'll have greater reminders of our need for His grace. We carry with us the remnants of a fallen sin nature that, while it doesn't rule us eternally anymore, still rears its ugliness and keeps us in a constant state of humility. But perhaps the key to combatting such failures in the spiritual life isn't trying harder, doing more, aiming higher, and striving for ultimate victory but rather in simply getting close to ourselves and realizing that we can't become who we ideally would like to be. "The model Christian" doesn't actually exist. And the only way we can find ourselves further along than before is by the gradual disciplines of a gracious God who scourges for our benefit and allows us to be tried and tested for our growth and His eventual glory. 
 So...this week...whatever it is you're struggling with, know this: God may or may not remove that thing in your life you've been battling, but He will give you grace either way. Grace to change, or grace to deal with ongoing failure. But regardless of how He sees fit to deal with your failings, be comforted that His forgiveness will forever run full and free on your behalf!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Whatever believers may be separated from, enough remains. None can take Christ from the believer: none can take the believer from Him; and that is enough." 
                    - Matthew Henry

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

"If we desire our faith to be strengthened, we should not shrink from opportunities where our faith may be tried, and therefore, through trial, be strengthened."
                          - George Mueller 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

"The innumerable comforts and mercies with which He enriches even those we call darker days, are sufficient proofs that He does not willingly grieve us: but when He sees a need-be for chastisement, He will not withhold it because He loves us; on the contrary, that is the very reason why He afflicts."
                           - John Newton

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Counting the Cost

 It's been a difficult few weeks. So much has happened recently that has led me to greater depths of knowledge over my own need, sorrow for the brevity of human life, deeper conviction that Christ is the cure for all our soul's diseases - if only we will let Him mend us in all our broken pieces. As a result of what's gone on lately, I have come to a place of realizing that the cost is great when you surrender to the leading of God. He will take you places where you will often find yourself uncomfortable, lonely, struggling, afraid, and fearful as your human heart fights His direction. You may even find yourself abandoned by others who do not desire the same holiness as you. But with every adversity He allows, He brings with it a fuller understanding of who we are and why He is always the answer. Our place isn't to question Him, it's to obey - willingly, and with open hands. That's so easier said than done. I love my comfort zone, and I do everything I can to stay there. But that's not what following Jesus is about. It's stepping out in faith and facing your biggest uncertainties, your greatest fears, with the assurance and peace that only He can give. His paths will likely lead you to situations that cross your own desires...but whoever said that following Him was about us and our happiness anyway?!? 
 I don't know what He's asking you to let go of or what change is ahead for you, but I do want to encourage you that in your wilderness moments, you will see God. If you keep your heart open, He will show you hidden blessings and miracles that you will miss otherwise. Following Him won't always be the most pleasant thing because you'll find yourself treading difficult paths for His sake. But don't run from His plan simply because you don't like it...run toward it because you'll discover it was the best plan all along! 


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What We Can Do In A World Consumed By Division

In light of the recent news headlines of shootings, a high-profile former athlete committing suicide this morning, church divisions and other things going on in our world, I felt I had to post this...

As most of you readers know, I don't tend to post on divisive topics. While I do realize that the truth is, in and of itself, divisive in a hostile world that hates God, I try to present the truth to my readers in the least aggressive and threatening way possible. Because we're all on equal ground when it comes to matters of the heart and soul - we've all fallen greatly, and we all need a Savior who will rescue us and give us life. As a result, I feel like this knowledge puts us in a unique and special place to dialogue issues here on this blog. Nobody is above anybody else. We're all on this journey to grace together. 
 That being said, I'm increasingly feeling led to address the escalating division that is sweeping our nation and our culture at large. All one has to do is turn on the news and see people picketing, people yelling, people destroying property and souls...all for the sake of what they believe to be true and just. It's happening everywhere. There can no longer be simply a civil disagreement, a discussion sown in respect even while those involved see an issue differently. All that people have been taught to do now is to shout louder than somebody else. To be more aggressive than the other, just so that you're own point is heard and received. There can be no healthy debate or discussion unless one side agrees completely with the other: either embrace my position, or I'll shoot you down and demean you until I've proven that my side to the argument is true. Being right is more important now than loving well.
Sadly, this spirit is becoming associated with people of the Christian faith. Churches are divided over matters of personal interpretation of core values instead of coming together around the shared absolute truth of the God they believe in. And, on top of the issues themselves, church people are no longer watching the manner in which they state their point of view. While the statement may be accurate, the attitude behind may lack in all things compassionate, caring, understanding, and respectful that, for fear of being seen as "tolerant" of a false point of view, people make the other side feel demeaned, disrespected, hurt, and unwanted. 
 Fear. Fear drives us all to become this way. We're either afraid of being too tolerant and not standing up for truth when we should, or we're afraid of being intolerant and unloving, so we say nothing at all. Either approach is wrong. And we're causing people to take sides because of it. We're driving people away from our Jesus because of it. In this, we have made a grave mistake: out of a desire to defend God and His truth, we've lost sight of the tone in which He would have us to speak and act. We have lost sight of the balance of His character and the simple fact that truth offsets love so that they are designed to assist each other.  
 Impatience, too. Oh...the ever-present feeling that we must hurry to make our point. That we don't have time to wait out a potentially lengthy process with someone of differing viewpoint so that our loving way equally draws them to God as our words! So frequently, we let the emotion of the moment get in the way, and we try to win the other side over in a single blow, only causing more hurt and never achieving what we desire. 
 Over the years, I've been involved in many political, church, or social settings where this aggressive approach to making one's point turned a common vested interest of a group into a divided shouting match where both sides only left with hurt hearts. I've seen it too often, and it's got to change. 
 Three examples of the proper way to compassionately make one's point without disrespecting the other person or group changed the way I view a discussion of sensitive sort. 
First, the example of a pastor who once wrote a letter in response to a article he'd read written by a lesbian college professor: When the author of the article received this letter, she later said that she immediately threw it into the trash after reading the pastor's response. He had spoken truth, but she didn't want to hear it. However, something made her pick it out of the garbage and set it aside. Weeks later, she'd be nearly to the point of throwing it away again, but something would make her read it over and over... and save it. Eventually, after quite some time had passed, the professor reached out to the pastor and they met in person at his house to discuss the issue of homosexuality. To make a long story shorter, his kind and sensitive manner over the course of many weeks and months, eventually drew the professor to attend his church...to listen for herself about who this God was that the pastor kept referring to. In time, she left her life as a lesbian and became a Christian. She married and now has several children. She's also become a best-selling author on the topic of how Christians can relate to the homosexual community, detailing her story and her unlikely conversation. (You can read her story in her books Secrets Of An Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered.) The gentle and patient approach of that pastor drew her into the community of faith. He was willing to take the risk of reaching out, yet was also willing to answer her many questions in the most gracious yet truthful way possible.
 Second, the example of a college diving coach and one of his athletes. The Olympic-Caliber diver had everything going for him in terms of talent and recognition in the world. He had already been to an Olympics and was still chasing the elusive gold medal he'd always dreamed of. But he also had an insatiable desire for acceptance, and this had led him to the college party scene. Living this dual life of athletic success but also doing drugs, smoking, drinking, and looking for love in all the wrong places had finally caused him to land himself in a very depressed and dissatisfied state of mind. Finding himself one afternoon in bed and contemplating suicide, the diver reached out to a fellow female diver in the same college program as he, having noticed a big change in her life in recent months. She directed him to the diving coach. Desperate for a solution to his problems, he reached out to the coach. He was invited to the coach's house for dinner. Expecting a quick-fix to his depression, he was surprised when the coach and his wife gave him Jesus. But they did so while asking questions and trying to help the young man to come to conclusions of faith on his own. Over several months time, the diver started to realize that what he needed wasn't fame, or the college party scene, or women. What he needed was God's redemption. He surrendered to the Lord some time later and eventually went on to write a book about his experience called Greater Than Gold. He is now happily married and has a little girl and another child on the way. The coach's approach was centered in truth but was equally intentional as it was direct. He was as much concerned with building a relationship with the young man as helping him to see Christ. 
 Lastly, the example of yet another pastor and a former World-class bobsledder. Much like the diver described above, the bobsledder had been living a dual lifestyle during his teen years. He was now around 20 years old and was watching his own father slip away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Angry at the situation, he had thrown himself into his competing and also into hanging out with his familiar crowd of gang members and party-goers. Just shortly before his father would pass away, he went to visit dad at the hospital. Hung over from a hard night of partying, he arrived to find a pastor there at the hospital room. For some time, the pastor had done ministry over at the nearby Olympic training center and had seen the bobsledder and his family around there. Hearing of their situation, he felt led to drive nearly three hours south to visit them and hopefully communicate God's love to them. He knew that they were not Christians, but he wanted to bless them anyway. The young bobsledder was blown away that someone would come that far just to show care to his father and family. After praying with them, the pastor left his card with the bobsledder and told him to reach out anytime. A few months after dad died, the young man thought he should go to the pastor's Bible Study at the Olympic training center as a way to say thank you...more out of obligation than personal curiosity. But upon getting there, he was surprised by the love that was shown to him by those participating. Intrigued by what he experienced, he began to attend more often and built a relationship with the pastor. Fairly soon after that, he quit his addictions and his connections with the gang. While he still struggled, within a couple of years, God had reached the heart of this rebel and, after nearly committing suicide, he dedicated his life to Christ and was baptized soon after...by the pastor who had first reached out to his family. He became a regular attending member of the pastor's church and allowed the pastor to mentor him deeply in his new-found faith. In 2010, about two years after they first met in a hospital room, both would go to the Winter Olympics together - the bobsledder in his sport, and the pastor as the official chaplain for the U.S. Olympic team. It was a culmination of God's goodness and a pastor's willingness to take a leap of faith and lovingly come alongside a hurting young man. 
 One common theme between all of these stories is that, in each case, the Christian had to take a risk. They had to be willing to enter into the pain that each of these people felt. But because that step was rooted in love, they didn't come in with the sole purpose of trying to "fix" the individual. They simply invited them to give God a chance...and they did so in love. They were intentional. They built a relationship that formed trust, giving them a greater platform from which to share God's truth. They came around these people with a shared sense of need before God and great awareness of their own shortcomings and weaknesses. Instead of taking the approach as many do of, "I'm better than you because I have Jesus and you don't..." they took the way of the Master and said, "I'm a sinner too. I have nothing good to offer anyone in this world except what God has given me. I can't fix you, but Jesus can. Let me introduce you to Him." 
 This approach would fix so many of the divisions we see today. We must realize that God doesn't need to be defended. He can defend Himself. He also doesn't need us. He can certainly make Himself known to a hurting world without our help. But He chooses to use us if we make ourselves available to let Him work through us. So often we act as though He isn't capable of speaking for Himself and it takes all of us to convince a hurting world how wrong they are and how much they need God. But in reality, we need Him as much as they.
 Perhaps we can take a step back and re-think the way we reach out to people of differing viewpoint than ourselves. Instead of picketing everything, shouting down the opposition, and being more concerned with winning an argument, maybe we start by showing the care of our Savior.  Instead of beating them over the head with the truth, maybe we start by simply building a relationship. Perhaps simply asking questions of them over coffee, or texting them a word of care, or inviting them over to a meal is where it starts. After all, the biggest complaint from the religious leaders of Jesus' day was that He chose to eat with sinners. He took the humble place...even to the point of washing the feet of the man who would betray Him. Maybe it's time we follow His example and commit ourselves to daring more deeply when it comes to who we reach out to and what we do. Maybe it's time we take a risk of our own and step out of our comfort zone in the way we reach out. Perhaps there is someone that God is putting in your life or your church that needs to be loved on but is feeling turned off by the aggressiveness of those trying to "fix" their problem. Just maybe the change in that person's life starts with you being willing to start the process of being intentional. Your willingness to follow God's leading and to resist the patten of aggressiveness, divisiveness, and demeaning may open doors to ministering to that person that you never thought possible. Living what you're for instead of stating what you're against will take you a long way. 
 So let us dare to face our fears, to admit our impatience and thus, to start fresh. Beginning from the place of being right or beginning from the place of loving well. Where we start from makes all the difference.